Douglas County Commission approves process to distribute $2.4M in ARPA funds for emergency needs

photo by: Chris Conde

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

Douglas County leaders are working to set up a two-lane process for the $24 million in federal pandemic relief funding the county will receive over the next two years, beginning with establishing a quicker process for emergency needs.

At its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission voted 3-0 to approve a funding policy that initially sets aside approximately $2.4 million for emergency purposes and establishes a process for distributing those funds. The rest of the funding will go through a strategic selection process that is still being developed.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told the commission Wednesday that the intent was to use the quicker emergency funding process in a “very narrow and very conservative” manner, and then have the rest of the funds go through a formal proposal process.

“I think really what we’re moving toward here is that we want to really move these kinds of requests into these two categories,” Plinsky said. “It either fits a very narrow definition of emergency services or it’s going to go through our request for proposals process.”

The county will receive $23.7 million over the next two years from the American Rescue Plan Act, and the funding policy the commission approved Wednesday designates 10%, or about $2.37 million, for emergency purposes. Such purposes are defined as “the purchase of supplies, services, and/or construction where the urgency of need does not permit the delay in utilizing informal or formal competitive selection methods.” To qualify, the purchase must also comply with the emergency purchase criteria established for ARPA for health and medical response or emergency expenditures related to human services.

Under the policy, health or human service agencies will fill out an emergency funding request form and submit it to the county, which will review the requests administratively. The county administrator can approve qualifying emergency purchases under $250,000, and purchases over that amount will require approval from the County Commission. Finance Manager Brooke Sauer said if the request goes over the threshold, it would then be subject to the county’s formal bidding process.

Plinsky said the public health department and LMH Health have already approached the county about some items they need for the community’s COVID response, so the county wants to be able to move quickly to begin distributing funds. Plinsky said that should the county decide it needs to allocate more funding toward emergency purchases, then that can be done, but 10% was to get the county started. She said transparency is also important, and that the commission would receive monthly reports about how the emergency dollars are being spent.

Commission Chair Shannon Portillo said she was glad that the county was continuing to learn from the process it went through to distribute previous federal allocations of pandemic aid, and that some funding would be set aside for emergencies.

“(I’m glad) that we’ll have the bulk of the funding, the vast majority of the funding to really think long-term strategically in our community, but we’ll be able to be quick with some of those emergency needs that we know are out there right now,” Portillo said.

The ARPA funds will be provided in two yearly installments this year and next year, and the county has through the end of 2024 to spend the money. The first installment of $11.9 million is available, and Wednesday’s discussion was a continuation of one the commission had last month.

At that time, the commission expressed support for a relatively quick process for emergency needs and a more strategic process for medium- and long-range efforts. Plinsky previously suggested that instead of having agencies start by submitting grant proposals, as the county did with previous federal pandemic relief, the county could have agencies file a brief notice of intent and the county could use those to develop a spending strategy.

Plinsky said Wednesday the county is working on a draft of the notice of intent and her hope was to bring that back to the commission for feedback within the next couple of weeks.

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